Nationals Baseball: Trade

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Trade

What should be the cost of increasing your chances an immeasurable amount in regards to obtaining something of unknown value? 

This is the question that is at the core of every trade deadline deal. It should be immediately obvious that one cannot get an answer, as there are two unknowns in the equation. But, whether it be based on hunches and gut feelings, made up numbers, or the current set of statistics, guys who are employed in the game, or employed talking about the game, haven't let that little caveat stop them from acting like they can.

If the current set of stats guys don't deal in made up values, how do they answer the unknowable? They make assumptions. The "unknown value" of a playoff win is treated like the chances of obtaining a normal win. The "immeasurable amount" is estimated by delving into all sorts of facts and figures. How likely it will be for player A to face certain situations? How much more likely is player A to be successful in these situations than player B? All of this controlled for line-ups and ballparks and etc.

When it comes to the playoffs this almost can't help but produce the conclusion that trading for someone makes a very small difference, if any at all. The difference between a good player and a great player is measured out in seasons and careers, not the span of 7 games. Luck will dominate such a small time frame. Since this part of the answer seems obvious, they move onto a more long term question. What is the value of the player received likely to be against the value of the players given up? Given the age, career arc, recent statistics, minor league projections, positions in question, etc. etc. they get a picture. Almost always the picture is the same, there is no point in trading a good prospect. The value brought in is almost always going to be less than the average value sent out.

This is a fair answer. But it's an answer to a question that was not asked. If the response was framed as such, "We can't answer the relevant question at hand, no one can, however we can provide this other information which may inform your decision" then it would be fine. However, it doesn't pay to be wishy-washy so there is no framing. This is presented as THE answer.

Of course, it isn't. We've talked ad nauseum regarding the Strasburg shutdown on how you cannot evaluate things that do not happen. History is not going to show that Aroldis Chapman improved the Cubs pen over Adam Warren by whatever the average WAR he is expected to do so by statistics. He's going to improve it by ?????  He will perform one way in the set of circumstances he sees. This is going to be a known. Adam Warren will have performed ??? in the ??? set of circumstances he would have seen. This is an unknown. We can estimate what it might be. We can make deals based on these estimates going for deals that were right at the time. But after all is said and done we don't actually know what effect a trade really had, and all we care about are deals that were right in the end, not at the time.

The question of the value of a win is tougher. What is the value of a playoff win? Of a playoff series win? Of a World Series win? Yes, gates can be estimated. Yes, apparel sales can be projected. But what is the psychic value of these things? What would it mean to the city of Chicago, to the legion of those fans, to win a World Series? What is that worth?

A numbers guy might tell you that the best way to improve your chances of that is to make the playoffs as much as you can. What they downplay though is the chances of doing such a thing. The value presented by prospects in the future in itself is FAR more variable than the value presented by a current major leaguer in the current season.  But there is a second variability often ignored, the variability of the quality of the entire team when the value of the prospects is expected to come into play. A guy like Chapman is very likely to produce in a certain way this season. The Cubs are very very likely to be in the playoffs this year and to have a good shot at being a favorite. Next year? The year after? It doesn't take long into the future, 3 years?, before things get so hazy for projections to barely be better than guesses. You might want to believe that a well-run team can provide more consistency in future estimates of performance but injuries, free agent signings, and the variability in the other teams you face in your division and conference all come into play.  Maikel Franco becomes Mike Schmidt and Aaron Nola becomes Steve Carlton and it doesn't matter if Victor Robles is a solid CF and Reynaldo Lopez is a good #3 exactly as projected. This point is very important : You can't say you are sacrificing the future when you have no idea, really no idea, what the future will bring.

This is a wordy long post to say that if you want the Nats to win this year - maybe you make a trade. It's not a question with a set answer, a clear yes or no, it's an opinion. My opinion is yes. I think a trade will help the team in the pen and in ways we may not be able to measure. That's my opinion.

If instead, you want the Nats to have the most value on their team in the future, then the answer is clearer. You probably don't make a trade. It depends on the actual offers out there but any good prospect, or set of prospects, is very likely to "out-value" whatever you can bring back. However, understand this is not saying "if you want the Nats to win the most games in the future" or "if you want the Nats to have the best chance to win in the playoffs in the future". Those, like the question at the top of the post can't be answered simply. This is only saying "if you want the Nats to have the most value in the future". That's it.

For me, in sports, value without the certainty of winning, is not worth much at all. 

30 comments:

Ole PBN said...

Personally, I think our answer to the pen is in house. Since I, including Rizzo and other posters on this site, are against trading guys to get a Wade Davis/Chapman/or Andrew Miller - the best thing we're going to get is a 8th inning set-up guy, ala Shawn Kelley 2.0. Which is fine. But why do we think we need to look outside the organization? When Pap was hurt, Kelley filled in nicely. I agree that Pap no longer belongs in the closer role, much-less on this team. You have a plethora of solid arms (Treinen, Kelley, Solis, Belisle) and I'd even throw Glover in there. But apparently the best thing for the Nats is to have him not contribute at all and pick his nose in AAA. Hey, they asked for Chapman - Yanks wanted Fort Knox. They asked for Davis - Royals wanted the Farm. Good for checking the market, but its dry in terms of elite shutdown closers that we're willing to trade for. Get a solid addition and try to promote from within. Eventually we're going to have to, and I think we have the arms to do it.

Jimmy said...

It's always a good idea to invest in a market when it's at peak value.

Anonymous said...

I can understand why some of our more silly fans think that all of our top prospects are future Hall of Famers, but the fact that Rizzo seems to believe this is a little disturbing to me.

Frankly, I'm not sure why Giolito deserves to be on our "completely untouchable" list. So far, I've seen absolutely nothing but pure hype to suggest that he deserves to be. And in case everyone has forgotten, he has already had a TJ surgery, quite a while ago. Everything about him is screaming out "overrated" to me.

Ole PBN said...

...case in point - we just signed Justin De Fratus. This is what you can expect from Rizzo at the deadline: panning for gold (but mostly coming up with gravel). But hey, a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while, right?

Jimmy said...

@Anonymous

I don't know anybody anointing them as HF it's just stupid to trade multiple lottery tickets that can net you millions for one lottery ticket that is just a bit less volatile and net a couple 100k. Relief pitching is a complete and utter crapshoot and frankly trading a potential good starter that is more than likely to be ready by next season for a relief arm is stupid. Because rest assured that's what your doing with trading one of Lopez or Giolito.

Anonymous said...

Two points for Anon 8:17 re Giolito: (1) he's pitched 11 innings that you've seen. That's not enough to form a viable opinion, much less a learned one; (2) notwithstanding your opinion of his 11 innings in MLB, his market value remains high, which has something to do with the fact that he's 21, 6'6", 250, and athletic. Even if you think he's overrated, he would fetch something likely more valuable than any relief pitcher currently in existence, so you shouldn't trade him for one.

Harper, I appreciate your post - and it really highlights how philosophical this debate really is. As applied to the Nats specific situation - trading prospects for a relief pitcher - I think something crucial is being left out. There is a very real possibility that Reynaldo Lopez is just as good out of the pen for the next 3 months as Andrew Miller or Wade Davis would be. Why do I think that? (1) Lopez struck out 9 guys in 4.2 innings last week; (2) Lopez throws 98 as a starter and can probably throw 100+ as a reliever; (3) Miller and Davis are both failed starters turned A+ relievers; (4) Lopez has had far more success as a starter in MiLB than Miller or Davis ever had.

What you're gaining with Miller/Davis over Lopez is certainty. That has some real value, and I'd be willing to give up something for it. But not a king's ransom, i.e., 4 prospects including Lopez. Given the current market prices for relief pitchers, I think the right play is to treat Lopez as your bullpen savior for the playoffs. It may not work, but it makes the most sense.

Harper said...

More like "Is it stupid to trade multiple lottery tickets that can net you millions (future performance of prospects) for two lottery tickets that is A LOT less volatile and will net a couple 100 (current performance of major leaguer), and one more volatile that can net you billions (WS win)?"

Chas R said...

I think I am in agreement with most here that we don't need to back up the moving van at Syracuse to improve the bullpen. We have some internal options and they can likely help, but I don't think I want those guys pitching in late innings of a playoff game or down the stretch for a division title. We can get a proven veteran for the backend of the bullpen without spending a fortune in July at the trade deadline where alsmost every deal is an overpay.

Jay said...

The other thing to keep in mind is that there are a ton of closers as free agents next year. In my mind, you also have to figure out what is this year worth compared to just waiting till the offseason and signing someone legitimate. Now granted every other team is going to try to sign these guys, but the Nats have shown they can be the highest bidder when they want to be. Free agent closers this offseason - Palpebon (ha, ha, ha), Kenley Jensen from the Dodgers, Melancon from the Pirates, Chapman from the Cubs (they can't give him a qualifying offer either), Sergio Romo from the Giants, Drew Storen (what the heck happened to him), Brad Ziegler from the Red Sox.

I'm actually glad they didn't get Chapman. I was not too jazzed with having a domestic violence guy on the team. He already said he was sleeping when Epstein called and discussed expectations for off field behavior and doesn't recall the conversation. Nice. Stay classy Aroldis.

Jimmy said...

@Harper
My point stands it definitely is. Especially since we already have a contending team and the goal is to sustain that going forward, I don't think it can be stated enough how volatile the playoffs are. I believe that both Giolito and Lopez to be vital to contending going forward in a way that a relief pitch cannot.

Anonymous said...

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-most-simple-fix-for-the-nationals-bullpen/

Jay said...

I agree. A perfect example of the volatility of the playoffs is just last year. Murphy was hitting homers off Kershaw, Greinke, everybody. He pretty much carried the Mets to the WS. The big deadline deal - Cespedes. Not so much. Wasn't he picked off first as one of the last outs of the last game.

Now to play devil's advocate. The reason the Mets were in the playoffs last year was in large part bc of all of their deadline deals - Cespedes, Clippard, Uribe, and Kelly Johnson, even not trading Wilmer Flores. There was no way to predict how much those moves helped the Mets. I do think deadline deals can give a team motivation. They can be energizing to the team (not that they always are by any stretch). The other thing to keep in mind, there are only so many rotation spots. For the foreseeable future the Nats rotation is Sherzer (FA 2022), Strasburg (opt out after 19), Roark (FA 2020), and Ross (FA 2022). That leaves 1 spot for the next three years. Gio has a team option for next year. Maybe it is time to bite the bullet and trade Giolitto or Lopez. Turner I wouldn't trade bc he is contributing now and the Nats don't have a bunch of positional depth in the minors. But pitching.... that is one thing the Nats do have to trade away. Also, Rizzo and the Nats look like absolute geniuses signing Strasburg now. When Hellickson and Cashner are the go to trades for SP - wow.

I don't think there is a right or wrong answer here. That is why Rizzo gets paid the big bucks. Nothing is more damaging to a team's psyche than blowing leads late. The Nats have now scored 6 runs in their last two games (last night they knocked Salazar, an all star for Cleveland, out in the 5th). They lost both of those games because we gave up runs in the 8th and the 9th. They also failed to score runs late and put the game out of reach, but I agree with FP about last night. A two run lead in the 9th facing the 6,7,8 hitters in the line up has to be a save 99% of the time.

Froggy said...

Agree with the post...but trades to try and solve the problem only work if you make them and find out.

Hey Rizzo, distract me from this Papel-bomb madness and get Carlos Gonzales please.

JE34 said...

Amidst all this, #34 has gone from BRYCE to Bryce to... (bryce). He is in some kind of rut. Someone loop video of his April for him.

Gr8day4Bsbll said...

Turner is tearing it up today... 3-for-4 in the 7th with 3 RBI. Any talk of including him in any trade deal for ANYONE must immediately cease...

BxJaycobb said...

Harper: You said "The value presented by prospects in the future in itself is FAR more variable than the value presented by a current major leaguer in the current season." Very true. But the value presented in the future by prospects is NOT more variable than the value presented by a current major leaguer IN A SMALL SAMPLE SERIES. I think you obviously know this and even made this point, but honestly, I think this is why it makes more sense to make a big deal when you have to win the division over last 1/3 of year AND succeed in playoffs. The benefit you are counting on from the player is suuuuuper hazy if you got them FOR THEIR PLAYOFF PERFORMANCE. I would argue just as hazy as the projection for a prospect in general. The first due to small sample variability, the second due to the rate of prospects not panning out. I'm not making any new points here and basically agree with your analysis.

BxJaycobb said...

Like...let's say you trade for Chapman. The chance he will not be good for you over, say, a year or so is NIL. He will be good for you. Granted "good" might literally be a difference of 2 blown saves not blown, but nevertheless, you KNOW his performance will be excellent, and you know it with sooooo much more certainty than you know anything about any prospect. The problem is, let's narrow it down to a few appearances in the playoffs. Then the variability goes up enormously. It is incredibly possible and even probable that Chapman's results from the playoffs are either the same or even worse than they would be if you had, say, Shawn Kelley for those playoff appearances. So I disagree with you that somehow Chapman benefit in playoffs has less variability than future prospect production. His talent in majors of course is more certain. His performance over a handful of appearances is absolutely not. I still think these guys are worth trading for. For example I would have dealt Lopez for Chapman. And I have no illusions that of these 4 prospects, probably 1-2 will not be that good and only one will be super-impact. But your variability comparison is totally skewed when applied to playoff series.

Robot said...

YAY STRAS!!!!

bsimon24 said...

Wow, great post. Insightful and intriguing. Good work! Making it look easy out there...

Ole PBN said...

Any thoughts on Greg Holland? The former Royals closer? He's a free agent...

NotBobby said...

PBN - isnt Holland still recovering from surgery?

Rizzo needs to get a RP. It is evident that Papelbon has lost the magic. Package Shields and Robertson together.

Sammy Kent said...

If Giolito is the price we have to pay to get Miller or Davis I say pay it. I still think we need another power bat in the outfield (Jay Bruce???), and as much as I love Danny Espinosa, he's returned to earth and he needs to sit for Trea Turner. My lineup would have Trea at short and leading off, with Jay Bruce in right and Bryce in center.

Watching the DVR last night I was again just floored by how many men we left on base and how many opportunities we squandered--starting right off the bat in the top of the first. Trea leads off with a double, and neither Harper, Murphy, nor Ramos can advance him at all, much less plate him. We should have scored about ten runs yesterday--AND the night before. When they were hitting well and the bullpen was great earlier in the year I wondered is this the new normal, or are they playing above their heads? I feel like I'm getting the answer now--and I don't like it.

Dusty's Toothpick said...

Time to win. The conservative viewpoint of holding onto prospects makes me sick. Holding onto Lito, I get and anyone who thinks Lito is overrated with such a small sample size does not know Baseball. He is 21 and huge, dare I make a reference to the great Randy Johnson who was also very tall and struggled getting his mechanics under control with so much going on early in his career. Looked what happened to him. So give Lito some time, he is a kid. I on the other hand, could care less about Lopez, or Difo or any of the other young guys. We have been looking at Zim, Harper, Ramos, Werth, Espinosa, Stras in the playoffs (on and off) for the last 4 years and these guys are all great players in their own right, they need a big boost to the bullpen to propel them to baseball glory. Trade who we have to get Miller/Davis. Lets win now!!!! I know that seems nearsighted but I have been a hardcore fan since the start rooting at RFK and excuse me if I want to see them actually get past the first round. We have a NICE club this year with another NL MVP in Murph and I truly believe Harp is gong to figure it out really soon. The time is now, make the trade for the lights out closer. Some people are suggesting using the arms we have!?!? Solis would crap his pants facing Buster Posey or Rizzo in the NLCS. I just don't see those guys coming through in a tough veteran worthy spot. Experience really does matter and having Davis in the 9th would automatically command more respect and put us over the top. Experience matters and we have just the right blend of young guys with sage vets to actually win it all. Our pen does not have that going on and it's time to BRING IN AN ALPHA CLOSER!!!! Pull the trigger Rizzo/Lerner(s) pull the trigger.

JW said...

I really think you just need consistency from the bullpen. I'm not sure I agree with the value of a "shut-down closer." Aside from a few guys like Mariano Rivera in his prime, I just think relievers, even closers, are too fungible to be worth high level prospects.

You need someone who can get the outs consistently. Even guys like Chapman will blow saves, it just has to be less frequent to be effective. But the Nats problems with the bullpen aren't just blown saves, it's the inability to maintain leads in the late innings. Most of the time the damage is done before the 9th. It's the lack of consistency from guys like Rivero (overworked), Oliver Perez, Blake, etc. that drives me crazy. Everyone focuses on how good the Royals bullpen was as an example of the need for a great closer, but it was the consistency of the guys in the 7th and 8th innings that really made it great.

The Nats need a consistent bullpen arm and a consistent bat. Someone with an ERA under 2.75 and someone with a BA over .250. They don't necessarily need All-Stars, just guys who will balance out the streakiness that so many of our guys are prone to.

JE34 said...

@Sammmy Kent: You're gonna have guys left on base. They left 5 on for the game yesterday, which isn't horrendous. It's the 2-for-12 with guys in scoring position... which has been this club's problem for years. Situational hitting - putting the ball in play when you need to, moving runners. When the weather cools down, the ball will not fly out of Nationals Park as easily, and the scoring problem will get demonstrably worse, unless...

...unless we see more of that sweet production from our shiny new leadoff hitter, to create more opportunities. Trea should use Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones as his walkup music. (He'll have to ask his grandpa who the Rolling Stones are.)

I also think we're witnessing the worst slump of the young career of (bryce) Harper. 4 for 40 since the ASB... hitting .177 in July. Yikes.

John C. said...

value without the certainty of winning, is not worth much at all.

Certainty of winning? Dude, you are blogging the wrong sport.

A guy like Chapman is very likely to produce in a certain way this season

But not certain. In the closer department, Familia has not blown a save in a year and a half ... except in the WS, when he blew three.

The Cubs are very very likely to be in the playoffs this year and to have a good shot at being a favorite.

And do you know what being the "favorite" get them in the playoffs? Sweet damn all. Top seeds in each league win ... 50% of their divisional round series. A coin toss. Go back over the past couple of decades and look at the "favorites" vs. the teams that actually won. It does occasionally happen, so it's not a bad thing to be a favorite. But the important thing is to get to the dance, and then if you can, to avoid the one game wild card crap shoot. Beyond that, short series randomness will take all of your carefully crafted plans and laugh at them.

Ole PBN said...

@Not Bobby - yes, but I read a report a few months ago that says he was aiming to take the mound in August. Won't help us right away, but I see it as a low-risk, HIGH reward type of signing. Perhaps he could be ready to help in October.

NotBobby said...

What about trading Espi and Lopez for Colome and Kiermeier? Maybe something less and get Jennings? Not sure what the contracts are like. ..

Ole PBN said...

@Dusty's Toothpick - to get Miller/Davis, we would have to cough up Giolito. And you as a GM won't do that - sooooo you're not getting Miller/Davis. Moving on.

Drawing comparisons to Randy Johnson is asinine btw. As you said, we know nothing about this kid due to a limited MLB exposure. RJ's had command issues early on, but he always has +pitches. Stuff was never a question. I'm on the side of the argument that I have not seen anything to make me feel optimistic that Giolito's stuff can succeed at the MLB level. You say Randy Johnson, I say Nathan Eovaldi (their arm slot mirrors each other). He may figure out his command issues, just as RJ did. But his "hitability" concerns me. I'd value Lopez right now over Giolito based on substance of pitches alone. Still wouldn't trade either for a dude who will pitch in 35+ games for us this year, only when we're leading in the 9th inning.

Just some food for thought: Jensen (5 blown saves, but otherwise "lights out"), Melancon (3 blown saves, but otherwise "lights out"), Papelbon (3 blown saves, ARGH!! We need an elite closer!! Trade anyone!) We do need a better option yes, but don't sell high for one - don't be like the Cubs.

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